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This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.
Nineveh was the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire, on the Tigris River, actually not in Palestine, although Palestine was included in the empire. Ophir was a land rich in gold, probably in Africa. 'Haven' is a word rich in connotation, suggesting shelter and security and peace, and adding this to 'home, ' another word with highly favorable connotations, multiplies the effect. The last line, 'Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine, ' is, in my opinion, one of the most pleasant sounding lines in English poetry.
The 'stately Spanish galleon' creates the image of a tall sailing vessel with billowing white sails. It is coming from the central American region, carrying a rich cargo of gold and jewels. Actually it is highly unlikely that it would have had all the different types of jewels, but the Spanish did ship a huge fortune in gold from South America. The line 'dipping through the tropics by the palm-green shores, ' like the use of the word 'sunny' in the first stanza, indicates very favorable sailing weather and gives a picture of serenity.
Unlike the other ships, this one is a coaster, that is just sailing from one port to another on the same coast, staying close to home; and since the poet is British, this is in his own area, not a distant part of the world. Note the extreme contrast of 'Quinquireme of Nineveh' and 'Stately Spanish galleon, ' the smooth sounding 'm' and 'n's and the soft, sibilant 's's with the harsh sounding 'Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack, ' with the hard 'r, ' 't, ' and 'k' consonants. And unlike the quinquireme, rowing in sunny weather, and the galleon, dipping through the tropics, the little British steamer is 'Butting through the Channel in the mad March days'—forcing its way against the elements in the English Channel during the stormy weather of early spring. Tyne coal is from the river Tyne area in England, and the rest of the cargo is far from interesting, although it may be much more practical and useful than the exotic cargoes of the other ships. The choice of the terms 'pig-lead' and 'cheap tin trays' makes the whole thing seem rather sordid. Just compare the last line of this stanza with the beautiful line at the end of the first stanza.
Of course, Masefield is doing nothing but describing the ships, their destinations, and their cargoes, but the great contrast here makes it obvious that he is implying a theme beyond mere descriptions. My understanding of his purpose is that he is saying that when we look back at the past and at exotic places, we tend to notice the unusual, the romantic, the glamorous. But when we look around us in our own time and place, we just see the very mundane and mostly uninteresting elements. Personally I would rather be a British union member on the steamship than a slave on that rowing ship or a scarcely more free sailor on the galleon. But it is human nature to dream of the long ago and faraway and think that those were much more exciting than our humdrum existence. Have you ever read Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem 'Miniver Cheevy'? This is exactly the attitude of the protagonist of that poem.
I love this little poem of Masefield's, for the thought, the vivid descriptions, and the highly skillful use of word sounds and connotations. It is a little masterpiece of a poem.
This is one of the most enduring poems I had been taught way back in 1958, along with Walter de la Mare's 'Arabia'. both poems are so modern yet so evocative. They criss cross the time lines and one is so swiftly carried across to the splendors and opulence as well as the romanticism of the past while being firmly rooted inn the present. The rhythm produced by the masterly craftsmanship of these wordsmiths is a joy!
Just for the record - a quinquireme is a ship with 5 rows of oars not sails. A great evocative poem going from the romantic to the prosaic in three verses.
Harmon says the debate has started. Why and on what basis does he assert that? You readers who agree with Harmon, please specify by citing lines in Masefield's poem that support the remark! Methinks I detect a whiff of PC! Guys like Harmon don't read poetry, they search for what they perceive to be incorrect thinking! Does no one on this site understand the history of PC all the way back to der Fuhrer, Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim Il Jong, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro et al? Check out a little history!
The debate has started.
All poems have a form and for a reason: form is part of the site map of a poem. In “Cargoes” it is very, very specific. Listen!
It is The Sailor’s Hornpipe. Just think the opening words then listen to [copy and paste into browser]:
https: //www.youtube.com/watch? v=D_JeKZd9ecE
I don't care how inaccurate the poem is. It just takes me to another place another time, and conjures up imager of far away shores, and then brings you back to our northern hemisphere climate with it's cruel seas with a completely different type of boat plying it's trade. The people who read too much into songs and poetry are to my mind trying to destroy dreams. These people should get a life!
Captures the idea, that things don't change much through the ages.
Cargo ship with a variety of valuables is quite interesting to read to know the history of the past splendour!
QUINQUIREME] Gally with five banks of oars.
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10/27/2021 12:01:13 PM # 18.104.22.1688